Rosalia Vila Tobella was raised in a small town in northern Barcelona, Spain. She was singing with her father at the age of 7, although she mostly listened to music in English and didn’t discover flamenco until she was 13. Rosalia began studying music at 16, completing her studies at Barcelona’s Catalonia College of Music. She also worked as a flamenco teacher and vocal coach.
She sang with flamenco band Kejaleo, releasing an album in 2013, while in 2016 she collaborated with Spanish rapper C. Tangana on the single ‘Antes de morirme’. In collaboration with producer and musician Raül Refree she created her first solo album, Los Ángeles, in 2017. Her second record, El Mal Querer, mixed flamenco with modern pop flavours and was widely successful, reaching #2 in Spain and charting in the US.
A series of festival dates and collaborations with artists like The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and Billie Eilish have left Rosalía poised to become the world’s biggest pop star, her flamenco roots giving her a point of difference in a crowded pop market. She’s also skilled at visual imagery – her bright, bold sense of color is a major asset.
Rosalía Album Reviews
Rosalía’s debut album was recorded with producer Raül Refree; they’re a duo, with Refree accompanying Rosalía. Los Ángeles is Spanish for the angels, and it’s a concept album about death. According to critics who know more about flamenco than I do, it bridges the gap between tradition and contemporary, although critics were divided over its authenticity and artistic merits. Refree and Rosalía were also working on a second record together, reportedly with neo-soul and electronic textures, but it remains unreleased.
Occasionally on this site, I’ll review an album that I’m even less qualified than usual to discuss. A traditional flamenco album almost entirely in Spanish is one of those occasions – the only exception is a closing cover of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s ‘I See A Darkness’. Unable to understand the lyrics, the main attraction is Rosalía’s charismatic vocal performance. It’s often intense, with Refree’s spartan guitar providing propulsion underneath Rosalía’s athletic vocals.
The stark Los Ángeles is a tougher listen than El Mal Querer, but it’s worth exploring to see if you enjoy Rosalía dark and acoustic.
El Mal Querer
English for “The Bad Loving”, El Mal Querer is a concept album about a toxic relationship. It’s based on the 13th century novel Romance of Flamenca, with every song named after a chapter of the book. Rosalía’s main collaborator is producer El Guincho, who provides her with a more modern sound. Impressively, she’s able to blend her flamenco background with R&B and pop, making a record that’s unmistakably steeped in Spanish tradition but also diverse and accessible.
The record’s spearheaded by lead track and first single ‘Malamente’, which encapsulates Rosalía’s blend of fresh and old – the hand-clap rhythms of flamenco are blended with smooth synths, topped by Rosalía’s sultry vocal. ‘Pienso en tu mirá’ is also instantly memorable, with another memorable vocal performance. There are also songs that are clearly more traditional – ‘Que no salga la luna’ is based around acoustic flamenco guitar, while ‘De Aquí No Sale’ is largely a cappella.
El Mal Querer is a triumph, establishing Rosalía as a star.
Back to 2010s Album Reviews….